Excitement is brewing for this weekend's Swampfest, a three-day festival featuring carnival rides, live music and fundraising booths to benefit local groups.
In three short years, Swampfest has grown from a startup event to Land O'Lakes' main community festival. The Land O'Lakes High School Athletic Booster Club launched it in 2009, when the Central Pasco Chamber Commerce pulled the plug on its renowned Flapjack Festival after an ill-fated move to the Dade City fairgrounds.
Organizers say losing the Flapjack Festival created an opportunity for the booster club to establish its own fundraising event — and provide Central Pasco with a festival it could be proud of.
"We feel we've filled the void," said Swampfest organizer Mike Connor, the booster club president. "We are Land O'Lakes' community event."
The event kicks off today with a youth night headlined by the local band Culprit, which recently won a battle of the bands at a Hillsborough County Fair. The music continues from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, touching on every genre from country to jazz. On Sunday, local dance troupes will show off their moves throughout the day.
The event will also have more vendors than ever, many of which are nonprofit organizations and school groups raising money, Connor said.
"One of the things that makes it so great is the money is going back into our schools and nonprofits," he said. That provides a boost "especially in this economy, where more and more things are falling on the PTAs and booster clubs for things the kids need."
In its first year, Swampfest drew about 3,000 people, but this year organizers are prepping for as many as 15,000, according to booster club vice president and event organizer Doug Hutchinson.
"The first year was kind of slow. You are on a learning curve," Hutchinson said. "This year we think the word's out there and we have certainly put the work in to make it great."
The festival has even grown large enough to land a $1,211 event grant from the Pasco County Tourist Development Council, which is no small feat, according to Pasco tourism development spokesman Eric Keaton.
"It's a scrutinized process," Keaton said of getting tourism dollars for an event. "Not only do they have to prove they are good product, but they also have to compete with 16 or 17 other events seeking funding."
Even rarer is a local school group like a booster club being able to put on such a big event, Keaton said.
"I would definitely say it's unique," he said. "It's a tough business, even though it's about trying to make people happy."